'Don't Cry ... I'm Here' Dolls Welcome Newly Arrived Refugee Children to Minnesota
A large trunk sits near Gail Harvey's front door in Coon Rapids. It's reserved for deliveries — mostly boxes of dolls and bears — and neatly folded handmade outfits. Each day, she empties the chest, carrying the packages to a three-stall garage in her backyard.
"It does feel like Santa's workshop at times," Harvey said as she walked through the space, past stacks and stacks of dolls, bears, soccer balls and piles of fabric.
This is the home of Don't Cry ... I'm Here, Harvey's nonprofit that has, for the past 2 ½ years, provided more than 500 newly arrived refugee and asylum-seeking children with dolls and bears that look and dress like them.
"This is about giving these kids something special that's not a blonde, blue-eyed doll that doesn't resemble them," Harvey said.
Each refugee girl receives a doll tailored to her ethnicity, dressed in a hand-sewn outfit that represents the traditional clothes of the girl's culture. The dolls also come with one other cultural dress, pajamas and a red, white and blue outfit, as well as hair accessories, a purse and play food. Boys receive a bear with culturally appropriate outfits. Teenagers receive a soccer ball and a blanket.
The gifts are packaged with an outfit for the child or teen and an age-appropriate book. Each gift comes with a handmade card made by children from local schools or Girl Scout troops. Many of the cards have crayon-scrawled notes like, "I hope I get to meet you someday" or, "I hope you like the U.S."
"What Don't Cry ... I'm Here is doing is, simultaneously, acknowledging how hard it is to move to a place like the U.S., and lifting up and honoring the strength and beauty of where these families are coming from," said Margaret Yapp, volunteer facilitator for refugee services at Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS). "It's not patronizing. It's celebratory and extremely valuable. Other nonprofits should look to this as a model for how to serve new communities."